By: Carole Meekins
MILWAUKEE — “The date was July 24th, 2021. The place, Pilgrim Rest Missionary Baptist Church. The event, celebrating the legacy of church hats. Oh, the day was glorious. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. The master designer seemed as though he pulled back the curtains and the sunlight and majesty reflected off the ladies church crowns called church hats!” Willie E. Burge Robinson reads aloud from a passage she wrote.
More on her writings later, but first let’s introduce Robinson. She’s a retired teacher with an abundance of enthusiasm for life.
“When you just look at the world and look at all the things in creation, the animals the birds and all of that, it’s just so awesome to see that and to know that it’s part of creation, created by a Creator. I get excited!” Robinson exclaims.
That helped lead Robinson on a journey to investigate something she’d seen all her life: ladies in church wearing hats. She has fond memories of her 102-year-old mother donning a headpiece.
“When our mom entered a place of worship, all the women of the church were invited to wear church hats. I decided to go through my mom’s boxes. And I was just – it was like a treasure hunt, but then I had an aha moment. How can I preserve this legacy? I decided to put together a booklet. My cousin saw the booklet, he said, ‘You should write a book.’ I had no intention for writing the book. But that’s how it all started.”
“Our African American ancestors found a spiritual oasis in their head covered. Symbolically, it was a way of escape to a place of peace in the midst of doom and gloom. They created within their heart, a place of abundance and hope. The African American woman that sits under a church hat has a long history of stories of struggles, triumphs, and overcoming.”
Robinson discovered that hats became popular in black churches after the end of African American enslavement.
“The significance of hats in the black church is rooted in Scripture that was written by the Apostle Paul. African American ancestors took them literally, that when you go to attend church, you are to cover your heads, because that’s your way of honoring God.”
Willie Robinson has also written Pouring out God’s Grace from a Mason Jar.
She explains, “It’s a part of me and stories of people lives that touched my life. I wanted to share their stories through my eyes, but also how they tied in and related to Scripture.”
Willie Robinson is a natural motivator and creative force.
“When I taught at Bay View High School, it was such a grand experience because I’m always a person who goes outside the box. I went outside the box on everything. We did all kinds of projects that reached the community.”
And in a way, Robinson is still teaching through her books.
“I don’t have a place for pride in my life. If I did mine is not pride, but humility and gratefulness that I was allowed to do this,” Robinson said. “My life purpose helps people to touch and change people lives in a positive way in whichever way I can. That’s my purpose.”